Ten Theological Trick Questions
1) Do you believe in the Bible?
These are ten theological questions that many evangelical Christians think are easily answered. Often, these answers provide a doctrinal base for how many people conceptualize the Christian Faith. However, they are not quite as straightforward as they might appear. All of them need a little more careful thought to distinguish what sounds good from sound doctrine.
Of course, these questions all need further explanation and qualification. This is just a brief look at why the first answer that many people might give needs to be thought through a little further. Note that these are just reflective answers, not "truth". They also reflect more an Anglican or Wesleyan theological perspective.
1) Do you believe in the Bible?
No. The Bible is not something to believe in as the object of our faith. The object of our Faith is God in Christ. We can and should believe that the Bible is a faithful witness to God and is true and reliable in what it tells us about God. But it should not be something in which to believe. That is the mistake of fundamentalists and biblical inerrantists (see The Modern Inerrancy Debate).
2) Do you believe that the Bible is literally true?
No. Absolutely no one, without exception, believes that the Bible is 100% literally true. Everyone recognizes that there are parts of the Bible that are metaphorical or poetical, or are the product of ancient worldviews or customs. The only issue is which parts people understand to be something other than "literal," and how they go about deciding that.
3) Have you been born again?
No, with qualification. The idea of "born again" rests on a particular reading of John 3:3-7 as that was processed into American revivalism. In the old King James Version (1611), the phrase in John 3:3 and 3:7 was translated: "Except a man be born again . . ." and "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." However, almost all modern translations use the phrase "born from above." That is explained in 3:5-6: "Jesus answered, 'Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.'" Also, since a plural pronoun is used in 3:7, it seems clear that Jesus is talking about the nature of the Kingdom of God, and what it means to be part of that Kingdom, not the individual conversion experiences of believers in a revivalist mode.
While the idea of "new birth" is not directly mentioned in Scripture, it does become a valid way to talk about the transformation that occurs by grace in the life of a believer. Theologically, it is associated with the aspect of conversion that is called "regeneration." "Born againism" is popular in some circles, often associated with intellectual assent to a certain set of beliefs from a Calvinist model. Yet there are many Christians who have not had the kind of conversion experience that this term implies is necessary, even though they have clearly been transformed by God’s grace and can bear witness to that transformation.
4) Was Jesus omnipotent?
No. This is an important Christological issue. Jesus was fully human, and as a human did not himself as a human being possess divine powers. Jesus himself confessed more than once his dependence on the Father. The earliest Christian heresy is called Docetism, which believed that Jesus only took upon himself the "cloak" of humanity, that he only appeared to be human while still possessing all the attributes of God. In effect, this nullifies the Incarnation. It is important that we take the incarnation seriously and accept the human dimension of Jesus, without slipping into heresy in the other direction by saying that Jesus is only human (Socinianism or Arianism). The details of precisely how God could be both human and divine have occupied the church for 2,000 years. It is an issue that is complex, the stuff of thick theology books. However, many Christians today tend toward Docetism in an attempt to express Jesus' divinity. Perhaps it is enough to say with Paul, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (1 Cor 5:19).
5) Did Jesus die to pay the penalty for your sins?
No. The "penal satisfaction" theory of the atonement assumes that relationship with God is purely legal in nature. It was developed from a church tradition that was steeped in legal ways of looking at the world, and so assumed that this was the way God worked. While there are some biblical passages that seem to use this metaphor, there are other passages that allow other theories of the atonement. And in the “whole tenor of Scripture” (a phrase often used by John Wesley) legal or forensic categories are not the primary way to talk about relationship with God. A forensic model casts the work of Christ and the grace of God in far too negative terms, which too often leads to a conception of the Christian life in equally negative terms. It also reduces salvation to a transaction rather than a relationship.
6) If you commit a sin, does that mean you will go to hell?
No. This is based on the same legal view as "penal satisfaction" theories of the atonement. It also revolves around how sin is defined. If sin is seen as any breech of an absolute law of God, known or unknown, then anyone who commits any breech of that law, willingly or not, is automatically guilty and condemned. But this sells God's grace far too short and does not consider viewing God in terms of relationship (the Old Testament concept is covenant) instead of in purely legal terms. Even the biblical traditions, notably in Leviticus 4, dealt with unintentional sins committed by God’s people. There are many other stories, such as David's sordid affair and murder, that are dealt with in terns of grace as well as consequences. John Wesley tried to clarify this by making a distinction between "sin properly called," which referred to deliberate sin (the Old Testament term was "high-handed" sin), and "sin improperly so called," which referred to actions that might be called unintentionally sinful or not the best responses (as in Lev 4), but were not in the category of deliberate rejection of God.
This leads to the need for a wider discussion of sin, which is too much cover here. But basically, there is only one sin that separates us from God, and that is the deliberate rejection of God's grace. And that does not require a murder, nor, as in David’s case, does a murder automatically trigger it. But something as seemingly inconsequential as gossip could, if done with a "high-hand." As uncomfortable as it makes all of us "righteous" people, it is not the action that is determinative, but our response to God’s grace. "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner."
7) Can you believe heretical things and still go to heaven?
Yes. Salvation is not by correct belief, but by grace through faith. Correct belief is important, because we live our lives based on what we believe. Faulty or immature beliefs lead to faulty and immature Christian living. But correct belief is not directly a matter of salvation. And for that, we are all thankful!
8) Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit?
No. Beyond the immediate association with Pentecostalism and charismatic phenomena, "spirit baptism" language has been widely debated in the Wesleyan tradition, with increasing numbers of Wesleyan scholars rejecting it. It is not something John Wesley promoted, but was introduced into the American Holiness movement through Charles Finney and Asa Mahan. There is solid biblical evidence that the New Testament passages that refer to "spirit baptism" have little if anything to do with how that concept is applied to manifestations of the Spirit, such as being slain in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, or other phenomena, or to the concept of sanctification in the Wesleyan traditions.
9) Do sanctified Christians sin?
Yes. "Sinless Perfection" is a perversion of the teachings of John Wesley that arose in parts of the American Holiness Movement in the latter part of the 1800s. Some overzealous promoters of a "second" crisis experience in the Christian life concluded that this second blessing eradicated from a person all tendencies to sin thus rendering the person spiritually perfect and incapable of sinning. This is a point where Calvinists rightly criticize what they see in some holiness churches.
Part of this involves how one defines sin. The biblical terms for sin include all kinds of actions that cause disharmony between us and God and us and other people, intentional or not. Those terms are not primarily legal terms, as in violation of law, but relationship and lifestyle terms. Sin is living one’s life in the wrong direction, or causing offence to God or others (a very eastern mode of thought). In that sense, as long as we are human beings, we will sin. That is why Jesus taught the disciples to ask God in his grace to forgive their own trespasses (one of the NT words for sin) as they in turn extended grace to others who had trespassed against them. A Christian who claims to have experienced this second work of grace called sanctification yet who sees no further need to pray for forgiveness does not yet understand what grace is. That subtly suggests that they may not be as sanctified as they assume (perhaps they went the "shorter way to holiness," which proved a little too short).
None of this suggests that the idea of sanctification, the cleansing of the heart by God so that love replaces sinful motives, is invalid. Only that a claim of sinless perfection is an invalid perversion of that idea.
10) Do you believe in the rapture?